Radio and baseball have gone hand in hand for nearly 100 years. But for the first time in the Hawks’ 29-year history, you won’t find their games over the air this summer.
Boise will become the fourth of 150 minor league markets above rookie leagues to not broadcast its games on the radio or online, according to an analysis of broadcaster411.com, a directory of radio and television broadcasters, and additional research by the Idaho Statesman.
The 150 minor league teams includes the neighboring Pioneer League, which is a rookie league but operates with rules exemptions as a short-season A league.
Joining the Hawks in those four teams without any broadcast is the Augusta GreenJackets, another team under the Hawks’ new ownership group — Agon Sports & Entertainment.
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Jeff Eiseman, president of Agon Sports & Entertainment, said with more than $500,000 sunk into improvements at Memorial Stadium, a radio broadcast slid down the list of priorities as the new ownership fights declining attendance (down 17 percent from 2010 to 2014) and what Eiseman called “six-figure losses annually.”
“You have a baseball team here that we joke around it’s a not-for-profit even though it’s not a 501(c)(3),” Eiseman said. “It hasn’t made money in years. It’s one of the reasons the former ownership group sold it.”
Eiseman said sprucing up Memorial Stadium is the club’s top priority, and the improvements include doubling the full-time staff, an improved patio deck down the left-field line, three new rows of seats and a new screen behind home plate.
“We have to define what we are,” Eiseman said. “One of the things that we always share is that we’re about families, families, families and family entertainment. That’s what we’re about.
“I wish we had 5,000 diehard baseball fans that hang on every pitch. But the reality is our mascot is more popular than our second baseman. We’re about an evening out of entertainment and fun.
“And although radio is synonymous with baseball, I’m not sure we cater to the diehard baseball fan base in our park versus the people who are looking for a fun night out at the ballpark and giving them a reason to continue to want to come out and start to fall in love with it. That’s the balancing act.”
The Hawks previously bought air time from KTIK, then sold its own ads. Eiseman declined to reveal how much the Hawks spent last season on their broadcast. But he said, “It is five figures. And it’s not insignificant.”
“There was a radio deal that preceded our group that was done 20 years ago,” he said. “Well, the world of media has changed drastically over 20 years.”
The other seven teams in the Northwest League will continue their online broadcasts for all games, allowing Hawks fans to catch games online, albeit with an opposing team’s perspective.
Northwest League opponent Salem-Keizer dropped its radio broadcast this year and instead will only provide games online. The other three teams without any kind of broadcast are the Augusta GreenJackets of the Low-A South Atlantic League, the Lakeland Flying Tigers of the High-A Florida State League and the High Desert Mavericks of the High-A California League.
Mike Safford has called Hawks games for the past 10 years. Boise’s final playoff loss to Hillsboro last season marked his 750th game on the air, more than double any other in team history, Safford said.
“To say that I was extremely disappointed to learn that the Boise Hawks were eliminating radio and internet broadcasts would be an understatement, however, I know that professional sports is a business and sometime tough decisions need to be made,” Safford said in a statement.
“I am saddened for the true baseball fan in the Treasure Valley that won’t be able to follow or get to know the new group of Hawks players and the Rockies organization — their stories, their backgrounds, their memories — through a broadcast.”
Eiseman said Agon didn’t hear many complaints after ending the radio broadcasts in Augusta, Ga., and he doesn’t expect to hear widespread criticism in Boise.
“I mean, I hope I get a thousand people calling me up screaming that you’re not on air, because then I know people really, really cared,” he said. “But I don’t think we’re going to get a thousand people calling us up and screaming. I think we’re going to get 10 or 15 people that are going to be loud and vocal.”
Eiseman added the Hawks are not ending the radio broadcast permanently. He said it could return as soon as next season if the right deal came along.
“We figured we can take this year and examine how we want to reapproach this,” he said. “Our plan, long term, we’re not only going to have a broadcasting presence. We’re also going to have a live-streaming presence with video. We’ll be able to show live games in here, five-camera operations, a major league-looking broadcast.
“We’re going that direction. Whether we do that here at Memorial Stadium or in an enhanced setting that we’re aiming for, that’s really where we’re going.”